Playing the “what if?” game with children is fun. Adults can make it silly or serious and bring the question to things or experiences that frighten the young ’uns, then show them what they can do to get over their fear.
What if? centres on five best friends who talk about what they see, leading to discussions on personal space, trusting their instincts, the freedom of choice, “stranger danger”, when to say stop, respecting body boundaries and consent, private parts and their proper names, and saying no when someone touches them in a certain way.
Simple rhyming text by Kimberley Lee and Liyana Taff, built around scenarios and diverse characters children can relate to, ease into conversations on the topics raised. What would you do if a monkey just sat on your head or a little mouse made a house on your bed? “I’d say, ‘Shoo!’” What if Aunty Ros wants a hug or kiss but you really don’t feel like doing so? You could tell her no or offer a fist bump instead.
Delia Razak’s big, bright and bold illustrations introduce readers to the friends, who strengthen the message that children know what is best for them. There are darker pages too. A lurking shadow tells readers (target age, three to eight) that when someone touches them in a certain way that makes them feel yucky and confused, then suggests he/she will hurt them if they don’t keep it a secret, do not stay quiet.
Such dialogues prepare children to recognise suspicious behaviour and warning signs. What is equally important is to help them identify adults they can trust and turn to for help. When children know revealing supposed “secrets” will not make adults mad, they will feel comfortable coming forward.
A discussion guide that nudges children to question and think beyond what they see, and activities that encourage them to act out different emotions or practise saying words such as “Please stop!”, “My privates are private” and “I will tell secrets that upset me” round off this pertinent book. It is published by Makchic, a group of parents who aim to generate awareness of child sexual abuse and prevention, and empower children with the skills they need to protect and take charge of their own bodies.
Purchase 'What if?' on Lazada at RM39.90 here.
This article first appeared on Dec 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.